Blue Helmets, Roll Out!

Last Sunday, on the 23rd day of October at St. Rita College, the Exempli Gratia Foundation (EGF) together with the Rotary Club Paranque MetroSouth (RCPMS) hosted the Blue Helmets Volunteer Orientation and Disaster Preparedness Training 1.0. The Foundation invited over 28 participants coming from the Rotaract of Paranaque MetroSouth and the Interact of Paranaque MetroSouth, youth oriented organizations supported by the RCPMS.

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The Blue Helmets Program organizes volunteers and teaches them vital skills in disaster preparedness. Armed with these skills, the Blue Helmets Cadets will know what to do during disasters and will become a ready volunteer base that will help and augment local Disaster Risk Reduction units.

That rationale behind the program because of the Philippines’ location in the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area notorious for violent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Recently, a spate of earthquakes had happened in different areas in the Philippines, the most recent of which was a magnitude 6.5 earthquake in Davao Oriental. There was also the massive 7.2 magnitude Bohol earthquake which leveled buildings and homes happening in 2013.

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It is very important that populous Metro Manila, which straddles the West Valley Fault Line, learns how to effectively react during a disaster. It is estimated that at least 33,500 people will die and an additional 113,600 people will be injured once an earthquake happens in Metro Manila as per the Manila Earthquake Impact Reduction Study (MMEIRS). What will exacerbate the situation is an unready population which will clog up vital emergency services during an earthquake. With an informed population, more lives can be saved and emergency services can do more to help the injured.

The program started with EGF Founding Chairman Ronald ‘Bong’ Rodriguez introducing the Foundation to the cadets, highlighting the different programs that EGF developed to help communities all over the Philippines. Several videos were presented highlighting earthquakes all over the world and the differences in the responses of the populations of various countries. Then a brainstorming session was conducted in which the cadets were split into several teams and were asked to come up with the values that a Blue Helmets Cadet would possess.

After lunch, the cadets again split into several teams and was tasked to perform a typical earthquake scenario with each them given a specific role. The chaos that ensued presented the cadets with an idea of what will happen to an unprepared population during an earthquake.

The high point of the day was the training conducted by Disaster Preparedness Advocate Martin Aguda. Mr. Aguda spent the whole afternoon teaching the cadets about preparing for disasters, emphasizing the need for allocating and saving resources, proper information dissemination and the need to act swiftly. One of the main themes during the training was the Y.O.Y.O concept which stands for Your On Your Own. Basically, it means that during a disaster, you have to be prepared because emergency personnel would have their hands full and individuals need to survive without relying on other people or the immediate help of emergency units. The cadets were also taught some basic first aid and the hands-free cardio-pulmonary resuscitation technique, done to the beat of the Bee Gees classic hit “Staying Alive”.

Katrin Buot, President of Rotaract of Paranaque Metro South, says this of the program. “Sobrang saya! Dami nating natutunan!” [translation: So exciting! We learned a lot!]

Hopefully, this will the start the creation a well-informed and prepared populace that can help during disasters. There can never be enough preparation for disasters and with this program, the Foundation is arming the cadets with knowledge that they can use for the rest of their lives.

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children playing street basketball

A Fighting Chance

Right before the Sucat Interchange is a small church that can be quite easy to miss if you are not looking at it hard enough. Its name is Ascension of Our Lord Parish, to commemorate Jesus’s Ascension into Heaven. It is small but it serves around 10,000 families distributed in a large area.

In a way, Ascension is a microcosm of the Philippines. Most of the parishioners are poor, living in the developing communities surrounding the Parish. The Parish Church itself is located in a middle-income suburb while at the farthest edge of the Parish is a sprawling exclusive subdivision. The irony is that at 300 or so households, the lowest number of families in Ascension, that subdivision still takes up the most landmass.

Our Parish Priest back then, Father Didoy Molina, was one of those young go getter priests, with an activist streak to him that always made him a fighter for social justice. He would always go around in the developing communities and he would visit individual families, and he would eat with them and exchange banter and stories.

One night, he was told that a family wanted to reschedule his visit as they were unprepared. Father Didoy told them it was okay, they did not have to prepare much but the family still insisted that they wanted to reschedule. It turned out that the family did not have any ulam (translation: viand or the main dish accompanied by rice) and what they had was saboy. Saboy in Filipino means to throw but in developing communities, it means literally throwing salt or soy sauce on plain rice so it would have enough flavor to be palatable. Most of the time, this would be the only meal of the day. This was poverty, staring right at us in the face.

Helping people get out of this cycle is therefore one of the imperatives of the Foundation. Through the help of G4S, one of the world’s largest security agencies, the Foundation and Ascension were able to hold a job fair for various positions in the security company in Ascension. The current Parish Priest, Father Jolan Landero was delighted that Ascension was chosen for this enterprise. From cashiers to drivers, these jobs would help to ensure that we can the endless cycle of poverty.

At the job fair, 15 out of the 20 interviewed had passed as Father Jolan recounts in one of his homilies. One of them, Dulce Amor from Masville recounts how this has changed her life. She had been studying at the convent, already a novice but somehow ended up marrying and settling down in Masville, one of the developing communities in Ascension. She takes odd jobs and every so often, sells kamoteng kahoy (rootcrop) to supplement her husband’s meager income. When the G4S offer came, she was ecstatic.

“Hindi ko inakalang matatanggap pa ako, pero praise God, inaalagaan pa rin ako ni Lord, (translation: I never thought that they would accept me, but praise God, the Lord still cares for me)” Dulce recounts, her voice quivering with emotion. “May pag-asa pa pala. (translation: There is still hope)”

Here is where we as a people can help our brethren. True, we give them stop gap measures so that they would not spend the day hungry, but giving them the opportunity to work and earn a living is far more powerful. All our brothers and sisters need is a fighting chance, a way for them to rise up from the quagmire of poverty.

It is our duty to give them that fighting chance.


About the Author:

Andrei Carada is a writer, blogger and dreamer. He dreams of a better Philippines.

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Imagine yourself in one of the biggest calamities the world has ever faced.  Imagine a storm of such great breadth that it literally wipes off towns and cities off the face of the world.  Imagine the howling 314 kph winds battering the walls of your house and the windows of your house flap like wings of a bird caught in a trap.  What used to be your fence posts are now projectiles that threaten your lives.  You cling to your family, not knowing if you will live through the night.

Somehow, some way, you and your family survive.  The storm has passed and you get out of your house which was nearly swept away into the sea.  You are glad to be alive.

However, you find yourself with a problem.  You and your family have not drank any water.  Your throat is parched but you see your son wailing, a keening sound that hurts your ears, not because of the nature of the sound but it is because it is the sound of thirst – it is the concept of thirst translated into human ears.

This is what happened to a small town called Salcedo in Eastern Samar.  The whole town was literally wiped off the face of the planet by Yolanda (international name: Haiyan), the most powerful storm to visit the Philippines in over a century.   Without drinking water, the town faced a slow and creeping death in the form of thirst.

The story however does not end in tragedy.  Donations and relief efforts started coming in but one critical effort came in the form of the Exempli Gratia Foundation’s Project Aquarius.  Project Aquarius transferred portable water treatment and filtration units to various communities in Eastern Samar and Bohol.  This was project was done in coordination with the Amihan Global Strategies (AGSX) and the Tsukuba International Catholic Church in Japan.

In any disaster, access to potable water is probably the most important concern a volunteer organization must be able to provide.  Water is life and by providing water to the worst affected areas, the maximum effect of saving lives is amplified.

Interested in helping communities via Project Aquarius?  Join us now and see how you can help save lives.

Read: The Aquarius Project

Andrei Carada is a writer, blogger and dreamer.  He dreams of a new future for the Philippines.


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